$1M Springfield mosque nears finish

Local Muslim group has outgrown its current center, built in 1980.

A $1 million building project on the city’s east side looks little like anything else in Springfield.

But, the local Muslims who worship at Masjid Al-Madina say their new mosque taking shape on Burnett Road is a dream come true.

“It’s nice to finally have one of our own that looks like a mosque,” said Saif Ahmed, 24, a lifelong Springfield resident who practically grew up in the current mosque, showing up every day after school to study Arabic.

When it was built in 1980, that mosque was the first in Ohio built specifically as a mosque, according to Yunus Lasania, Masjid Al-Madina’s full-time imam for the past 23 years.

Considering that still only 5 percent of the nation’s 2.7 million Muslims live in metropolitan areas with populations less than 250,000, it’s a safe bet that the local architect who built the original mosque back in 1980 had never attempted anything like it before. In fact, Lasania said, he normally built houses.

Lacking the identifiable dome and arches of the new mosque under construction, it was nevertheless deemed sufficient for the eight to 10 families who had been worshipping together in local homes and apartments since 1976.

Between Masjid Al-Madina — masjid is Arabic for mosque — and the An-Nur Islamic Center on West Liberty Street, more than 50 Muslim families now worship together locally, Lasania said.

Masjid Al-Madina not only needs bigger prayer facilities, Lasania said, but the current mosque isn’t hospitable to the elderly or the disabled because of its steps.

“We think this mosque will be sufficient for the community for the next 30 to 50 years,” Lasania said.

The old mosque is still in use for Friday prayers during construction and will continue to be used for gatherings once the new mosque is complete two months from now.

The congregation set out to raise little more than $1 million for the new mosque almost a decade ago through bake sales, garage sales and dinner fundraisers.

“It didn’t happen overnight. I wish that were true,” said Samina Ahmed, a longtime Springfield resident and Saif Ahmed’s mother.

They’re hoping to complete the new mosque with a minaret, but will need to hold more fundraisers, Lasania said.

“It would look beautiful with that minaret,” he said.

There remains a standing invitation to non-Muslims in the community to attend a Friday afternoon prayer. The holy period of Ramadan begins at sundown Tuesday.

“If anybody wants to come, I always tell people you don’t need to call me,” Lasania, 44, said. “Just be here at 1:30 on Friday.”

Globally, the Muslim population is predicted to grow at about twice the rate of non-Muslims, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. As of 2010, the global Muslim population stood at 1.6 billion, making Islam the world’s second-largest religion.

That number is expected to increase to 2.2 billion by 2030, according to Pew.

According to data collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Clark County’s Muslim population has risen from just .08 percent in 2000 to .25 percent in 2010. To put it another way, the number of Muslims who regularly attend services here has risen from 110 people to 348 since 2000.

Wood County, home to the striking Islamic Center of Greater Toledo built in 1983 along Interstate 75, has the most Muslims in Ohio, at 1.59 percent, according to the data.

Friday prayers resumed at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in March after it was damaged by arson last September. A 52-year-old Indiana man was sentenced in April to 20 years in prison for the arson.

Lasania, born and raised in the United Kingdom of Indian descent, remembers being warned early on that he might not like living in such a small community as Springfield.

He found just the opposite.

“I love it,” he said. “Springfield is my hometown. This is where my kids were born and go to school.”

He also believes the mosque is situated right where it needs to be.

“We have some of the best neighbors,” he said.

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